Column: Learning from visit to Eastern Cherokee Reservation
"My memories of Cherokee, N.C., were vague, considering that I had not been there since the early 1960s. I remembered it as a tacky town, full of cheap souvenir shops, Indians who danced for money and wore costumes based on every stereotypical Indian from John Wayne movies.

When we arrived there last week, I had one of the best surprises of my life. Yes, there are still lots of tacky shops and gimmicks. However, we did not go to shop for plastic tomahawks. We went for the museums.

What we saw in Cherokee would have been a bargain at twice the price. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is masterfully done. It traces the history of these people from thousands of years ago, displaying relics and reproductions of the earliest tools and vessels. The story is told from the view of the Cherokee people themselves. Our visit to the Qualla Arts and Crafts gallery was a treat. The intricacy of the designs and the attention to detail in baskets, fabric and wood reflected centuries of refinement and hard work.

The Oconaluftee Indian village is one of the most authentic and least contrived "living history" museums I've ever visited. Visitors move from station to station, with a guide, to learn about food, crafts, religion, housing and transportation. No one dresses in costumes and pretends to be a character from 1759, but they are emphatic about an accurate portrayal of skills from that time. If it now makes more sense to use purchased yarns for the traditional finger weaving, they tell you right up front, emphasizing that the craft itself is still in its ancient form. The artisans are patient and articulate, willing to answer questions from the silly to the complex."

Get the Story:
Myra Blackmon: Finding wisdom, understanding in Cherokee (The Athens Banner-Herald 6/23)